Service With a Purpose

If you reflect on the earlier industrial model on how work was structured and how we did it, you would have to agree that life was quite simple and straightforward.A job was a job. A customer was a customer. A client was a client. A student was a student. A patient was a patient. We came to work every day and didn’t think much about the environment around us. The rules and regulations that applied were straightforward and uncomplicated.But it seems that the working world for every profession has become more complicated. For instance, while patents have long been used for inventions, the concept of intellectual property as it applies to logos, names, images, artistic, musical or literary works has become more prevalent.Companies and individuals alike want to own, sell and protect what is rightfully theirs. As a result, we have seen licensing of software products become commonplace. Every day, professionals need to ask themselves whether what they are about to do at work may be restricted due to copyright, trademarks, patents and/or other exclusive rights. On the other hand, personal privacy has become a critical issue in the workplace because technology has facilitated a growing intrusion into the private lives of citizens. Let’s face it, companies of all kinds and from every industry sector are busy reviewing their online customer lists to help them strategically target sales according to customer buying habits.Employees increasingly encounter issues related to personal privacy. Prior to employment, candidates are faced with background and criminal checks while security and surveillance techniques such as monitoring keystroke counts, e-mails, telephone calls and hand/facial recognition techniques upon entry or exit confront employees every day. The result is a much more conscious effort to protect individual privacy through corporate policies as well as legislation.These workplace initiatives have created an interesting “protect and serve” work or business/service environment. And while much of the direction is truly related to the concept of protection of business or service interests, in my opinion there is also the danger that the philosophy is slanting too much toward “control” rather than “serve.”This control aspect, for instance, is being seen more and more in business as employees at all levels of an organization are being increasingly compelled to sign restrictive non-compete/non-solicitation agreements as part of their employment contract. In some cases, companies try to enforce these agreements even if the employee was laid off for lack of work.The issue of control is also found in the debate and controversy over “who owns the client/customer” and “who owns the file” that swirls around professionals such as insurance brokers, sales agents, financial planners, consultants, lawyers and physicians.These professionals believe that their business investment would be injured if the client/customer switched service providers. While that may be the case, we need to keep in mind that it’s the clients and customers who decide which service provider they want to work with. It’s clients and customers who have the right to choose whichever service provider they feel will best serve their needs.Organizational leaders who forget this basic rule for customer/client service relationships often act out of fear and self-protection. Their ego starts to get in the way and impacts their ability to lead effectively. They think only of themselves and their personal goals and are unable to view their role from the perspective of the client. When ego starts to get in the way, the leader starts fighting over who is in charge as they try to enforce their superiority.In the case of the potential loss of a larger client base, a leader may also begin applying political tactics and “kill the competition” games rather than working towards a win-win solution that works for the client and everyone else involved. Unfortunately, this type of dysfunctional, ego-driven leadership has the potential of poisoning not only customer relationships for the long term, but it will also have an impact on employees.At the same time, service providers who lose touch with their clients often get stuck in what is called a “parent-child” script. This is a one-way power trip where a “mother knows best” attitude colours the client/service provider relationship. Instead of seeing the relationship as one of equal solution partners, the vendor takes the role of an “expert” whose opinion and/or solution is perceived to be superior to anything else that is offered.Positive and quality relationships with key stakeholders whether they be funders, vendors, customers, clients, students, employees and/or health-care patients, for that matter, is critical to the success of any business venture. This requires a conscious, systematic and routine effort that begins with having the right mindset. That mindset includes a belief that relationships are important, that you think well of others and that you demonstrate professionalism, integrity, caring and knowledge in everything you do.But what is a meaningful relationship? It’s one where trust and rapport are strong and where meaningful, truthful dialogue can take place. In other words, when someone talks, you listen instead of being immediately skeptical and always looking for a hidden agenda. If clients are unwilling to share their problems with you, then you can’t help them even if a solution exists.At the same time, if you don’t listen effectively to what the client problems and issues are but instead attempt to automatically apply your own prescribed solution, then you will not be able to develop a positive, meaningful relationship. In other words, you have also failed as a service provider. Times have changed and the business environment has changed, but what will not change is that the customer/client will continue to make their own decisions.Source: The Relationship Edge in Business: Connecting with Customers and Colleagues When it Counts, Jerry Acuff with Wally Wood, John Wiley & Sons, 2004; Beyond Ego, Influential Leadership Starts Within, Art Horn, ECW Press, 2008.